by Doug Carpenter


Never Say Never... at Least Not Yet

There must be a hole in my Bucket List. It’s the only logical explanation I’ve been able to come up with for why — at least for the moment — I’m so surprisingly unhaunted by regret over things I imagined I might do in my life but somehow never got around to.

I know. Spare you the “woulda, shoulda, coulda.” But considering the high probability that you’re as guilty as I am of indulging the painfully-human tendency to second-, third- and [...on especially low self-esteem days...] fourth-guess your life choices, you’re not really in a position to point any fingers. Instead, let me point out a couple of things that you — idealistic Boomers that you might well be — may not have noticed.

First, those of you who were born in the closing years of the Boomer boom are barely into your 50s. And regardless of how much your now more-puff-than-buff bodies may whine about aches and pains [...complaints that undoubtedly only grow louder when your brains realize what health clubs want to charge you for the privilege of collapsing in exhaustion on their nubby rubber floors rather than your family room rug...], you’re still young.

That’s right. Young — if not by the standards of today’s sadly-unenlightened corporate hiring policies then at least to anyone who buys into the latest pandering, feel-good aging people’s rationale that “50 is the new 30.” Well, it’s 50 for the moment, anyway — until somebody bumps that number up. [But trust me. It won’t be a 30-year-old who does it. They’re already feeling old, too, and they’re only 30.]

Since we have the admittedly self-deluding idea to play with, however, we might as well put it to good use, starting with what I assume will be an enjoyable attitude adjustment for those of you at the other, earlier end of the Boom generation’s procreational point spread. I’m speaking now to the [...Let’s see... divide by 50... carry the 1... ah, there we go...] the 42- to 42.6-year-olds.

See? Every now and again you’ll be glad [...or wish you had...] paid attention in math class. Because in this case, the application of that “50 = 30” formula gives the 1946-born 70- and 71-year-olds access, if only mentally, to a whole bunch of years they assumed they’d already cashed in. The only string that would appear to be attached to this wishful windfall of bonus booming time would be deciding how to spend it. But then, that’s always been the hard part, hasn’t it?

From an early age, we all know that we’re only going to have a limited amount of time in which to do whatever it is we’re meant to do in our lives. And that, I’m sorry to say, is pretty much it for what we actually know going in. What will we do? Where will we do it? Who will we do it with? How will it all turn out? Those are all questions we’ll ultimately have to make peace with the answers to — assuming, of course, we ever figure the answers out.

In fact, that right there probably is, or should be, the lead item on most of our Bucket Lists. “#1: Figure out what the hell it all means.” Not that we’ll ever actually do it. But we ought to at least be trying. Unfortunately, as good a piece of advice as that may be, I picture a lot of my brother and sister Boomers responding to it with some form of the casual indifference that has become one of our generation’s signature moves.

There’s a very good chance, you see, that your typical Boomer doesn’t simply not care what anyone thinks should be on their Bucket List, they don’t have one — and they don’t need one. Why? Well, aside from the obvious fact that, as a member of the “famous Baby Boom generation,” they’re going to live forever [...Remember the song Fame? Listen to it. It’s right there in the lyrics...], they didn’t have to come up with a list of their own because the peer pressure that’s driven them and their egos right from the very beginning created one for them.

It was the very same peer pressure that fueled the subversive undercurrent of conformity that somehow managed to steer allegedly-proud, would-be individualists to dress — totally coincidentally — in some combination of torn denim jeans, work shirts and Army surplus fatigue jackets. It’s the communal cultural memory that made — and continues to make — Boomers as sentimental for their youth as their parents were for their “good old days” when you could buy a steak dinner for $5.00 and a politician’s vote with a box of Cuban cigars. [Eating red meat and smoking apparently used to be healthy. They even said so on TV.]

It’s almost like everyone was issued a copy of a list of the times we all gathered to participate in the kind of seminal experiences that have come to define the ethos of our generation. Like the day the Beatles played New York’s Shea Stadium in ’65. Or when we all played Frisbee catch in the mud at 1969’s Woodstock music festival. Or when we tried really hard to make it to Manhattan’s Central Park on September 19, 1981 to hear Simon & Garfunkel record their famous live album. [It may have been a Saturday, but some of us still had to work. Grown-up responsibility sucks sometimes.]

If it looks like all the watershed Baby Boomer moments were concerts, that’s only because they convert so conveniently into an emotional currency that everybody can spend regardless of their tastes in clothing, or music, or mud-based recreational activities. And considering the trails of They Might Be Giants-sized footprints popular music has continued to leave across the cultural landscapes travelled by Gen Xers and Millennials, played and sung generational messages aren’t likely to lose their emotional resonance any time soon.

What does worry me, though, is the changing complexion of the world in which these potentially-bonding experiences will be shared. For one thing, having witnessed world-scale events with exponentially-higher “wow” factors than any mere musical performance could ever hope to deliver, what exactly will it take to make something truly unforgettable for an entire generation?

Sure, Lady Gaga could have her “meat dress” confiscated as a suspected source of Mad Cow Disease by field agents from the U.S. Department of Agriculture while on stage performing at the Hollywood Bowl. And the Twittersphere would explode for maybe 20 minutes, right up until a hair-pulling slapdown between Miley Cyrus and Ariana Grande broke out over who’s the more dedicated vegan during the live red carpet lead-in to the American Music Awards. [Admit it. You’re not sure if that last one was made up or really happened.]

That’s the thing about “shared moments.” The impact of sharing them is still as profound as it’s always been. It’s the process of sharing that’s changed. With the way we’ve all become instantly electronically linked — whether by live, real-time Facebook postings; streaming participants’-eye-view video live from our cell phones; or simply being endlessly talking, chatting and/or texting about every blessed thing we do, it’s like everyone has an all-access pass to everything happening everywhere in the world.

They used to say “You had to be there.” These days, though, you kind of don’t. I just wouldn’t expect the experience to be the same.

© 2017 Doug Carpenter

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